Da Vinci judge warns media on contempt

In Court 61 of the High Court last Wednesday (3 May), The Lawyer apologised for its scoop of TheDa Vinci Code outcome, which it revealed before Mr Justice Peter Smith had handed down judgment.

Smith J gave a judgment that will serve as an important warning to all the media, particularly on the web.

“I acknowledge that journalists have a legitimate interest in publishing matters and a legitimate interest in publishing a scoop if they have it. These two legitimate interests should not collide with clear legal principles,” said Smith J.

The judge entered a vigorous debate with Geoffrey Shaw QC of One Brick Court, who represented The Lawyer, about the laws regarding contempt of court.

Smith J concluded: “I accept there is an argument The Lawyer has not acted in contempt of court.”

Smith J was a member of the working party that led to the October publication of a new practice direction, which allowed the parties to see in confidence a draft judgment ahead of it being handed down. Before that, only the lawyers involved in a case were sent the draft judgment and the parties were only notified an hour before it was handed down.

The Lawyer declined to reveal its sources. Smith J concluded: “It is not in the interests of justice to ask the journalists to reveal their sources.”

He accepted The Lawyer‘s apology and said he would not ask for an inquiry.

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